Resolved: More Traffic Congestion & Automobile Dependence

Brooklyn City Councilmember Lew Fidler and a small group of his outer borough colleagues have put forward Resolution 774 "calling upon the Mayor of New York City to oppose the institution of any form of congestion pricing." The resolution is based on a March 2006 report commissioned by the Queens Chamber of Commerce that was, to put it mildly, filled with misinformation and gaping holes about the City of London’s congestion charging experience.

Note that this is not an introduction of a new piece of legislation. It is just a resolution — essentially nothing more than a toothless proclamation, a bid for attention. While I’m hesitant to give them that attention, the Queens Chamber report is such a shoddy piece of work compared to Bruce Schaller and the Partnership for New York City’s congestion pricing studies, it is hard to resist giving you a peek:

By Council Members Fidler, Weprin, Avella, Gonzalez, Katz, Martinez and Nelson

Whereas, In response to a well-recognized problem of traffic congestion in cities, certain solutions have been proposed to control the public demand for transportation; and

Whereas, Solutions to this problem include providing incentives and disincentives to control traffic congestion; and

Whereas, The incentive method attempts to persuade more drivers to use public transportation by making public transportation more attractive, while the disincentive method attempts to deter people from driving by imposing a price or making it difficult for them to drive; and

Whereas, The City of London is currently executing the disincentive method by mandating a $14 charge, or a congestion price, for entering London’s central business district, and as a result, various New York City advocate groups have called for the City of New York to also adopt congestion pricing; and

Whereas, The Queens Chamber of Commerce issued a report in February 2006, entitled "A Cure Worse than the Disease?: How London’s ‘Congestion Pricing’ System Could Hurt New York City’s Economy" (the "Congestion Pricing report"), indicating that despite the relatively steep congestion charge, London only experienced a 2% decline in the number of people entering that city after the charge’s imposition; and

Whereas, The Congestion Pricing report also indicated that a congestion pricing system would result in 40,000 fewer people entering the Manhattan central business district each weekday, resulting in a $2.7 billion loss in economic output; and

Whereas, That same report additionally ascertained that working-class and middle-class car commuters who hold jobs based in Manhattan, and small to mid-size businesses from Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx which need to send employees to Manhattan on a frequent basis, would be inequitably affected by congestion pricing; and

Whereas, The coalition "NYC Congestion Tax-Free" strongly opposes any form of congestion pricing, maintaining that such a policy is a tax and an unfair burden on the outer borough commuters; now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the Council of the City of New York calls upon the Mayor of New York City to oppose the institution of any form of congestion pricing.Res. No. 774

  • This is almost too easy a strawman to attack. If I didn’t think they meant it, I would say this was a bit of reverse psychology.

    I think we need to start turning these negative arguments on their head and stating very clearly what they seem to actually be for. It’s one thing to oppose an innovation, but we need to articulate better what the lack of innovation means for our communities.

    Fidler: Pro-Oil Dependence, Pro-Traffic, Climate Change Denier….

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    I think it’s important to acknowledge that Fidler, Weprin and friends may actually believe this. Even if they’re cynically acting in bad faith, there are people out there who believe it. Perhaps for no reason other than that they don’t want to admit to themselves that they’re polluting the city, causing a disproportionate share of wear on the streets, taking up more than their fair share of space and putting their neighbors at risk of crashes.

    Regardless, there are some people out there who believe that this is an elitist plan by wealthy Manhattanites to tax the working-class and middle-class outer-borough business people, and to generally make life difficult for them. They see it as a Brooklyn and Queens vs. Manhattan issue, and assume that everyone outside of Manhattan sees it this way.

    People here know that congestion pricing would primarily benefit poor transit riders, that drivers will see a benefit from less-congested streets, that the outer-borough drivers are almost all middle- and upper-class “elites”, and that the city shouldn’t be subsidizing motorists with general tax revenue. We also know that the idea enjoys significant support from the outer boroughs.

    The plan is doomed if they succeed in framing this as Manhattan vs. the outer boroughs, or wealthy vs. middle-class, the same way that opposition to Atlantic Yards was undermined by framing it as elitist white Park Slopers vs. working-class black Fort Greene residents. It needs some clear support from outer-borough residents and poorer New Yorkers to overcome it.

    The rhetoric of taxes and burdens invokes a frame that puts congestion pricing in a bad light. We need to put forward an alternative frame involving things like fairness, eliminating subsidies and making the outer-borough elites pay their fair share. What other frames would work?

  • Angus

    I agree and one approach I like is to make congestion pricing a feebate system. Basically anything collected could be returned in the form of a rebate check to every resident of NYC or perhaps given to the community boards to speand as they see fit. As long as you are not a heavy user you would win. That way a vast majority of people / communities in NYC would receive more than they pay into it.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    That’s a good point. I like the idea of the money going to transit projects, so that there are better alternatives for the people who decide not to drive. It could also be used to pay for the road and bridge repairs that are necessitated by the people who drive.

    But congestion pricing would be valuable even if the money all gets spent on hookers and blow, so I guess as long as it’s not going towards road widening it’s okay.

  • BorschtBelt

    Streetsblog needs a “top quotes” page – I think Angus’ above comment could certainly kick it off =)

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Aw, shucks… 😉

  • I still don’t what the Queens Chamber of Commerce is on about. Shouldn’t they be trying to think of ways to get all of those Queens drivers to stay in Queens and buy stuff there, instead of driving to Manhattan?

    (I like the feebate idea, too.)

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